Last night, I sent my newly revised first chapter of the manuscript I intend to submit to agents and publishing houses in January, to my harshest critic. I’m not-so-eagerly awaiting her feedback.
“My harshest critic.”
That just sounds terrible, doesn’t it?
In truth, my harshest critic has been my BFF for almost twenty years. We raised our children together, held each other together during divorces, lived together, and been “that person” who was always there, no matter what, for each other. She loves me to her core, just as I love her.
She also believes that deep down inside of me is an awe-inspiring author. She chastised me several years ago for not working in the writing field somehow (I do now). When I sent her my already published short story, she sent it back ripped to shreds, with notes for revisions and pointing out weak spots. She’s not a professional editor, but she’s a great beta reader.
And because she loves me, believes in me, and knows what I’m capable of, she’s harsh. She tells me if a line of dialog works, if a scene is implausible, if I’ve left a plot hole wide open. She tells me if she loves my characters, or if she thinks they’re utter crap-and why. In short, I need her criticisms.
The already published short story that I sent her had been through three beta readers and a professional editor. While I fault none of them in the process, I’m the type of person who doesn’t take hints. I need beta readers and editors who spell it out and tell me exactly where I need to improve. Now, don’t get me wrong; my editor for my short was great, and I’m thankful I went through my first professional editing experience with her. She was exactly what I needed for a first editing experience because she helped me through the experience and made me realize that I need someone who, like she did, challenges me to improve.
If I have an editor that tries to be gentle with me, I’m never going to get to the point where I feel compelled to make it better. It’s only when challenged that I really shine. I’ve always been this way. I work best under deadline, and with someone pushing my buttons. My BFF does that for me.
As a creative herself (she’s a brilliant photographer), she understands that I need someone to challenge me to be better. As my best friend, who’s not afraid to hurt my feelings when necessary. She also knows how far she can push me before I become defensive (at which point, nothing she says is going to register).
So, when she sends me back a ripped up chapter later this weekend, how am I going to cope?
First, I need to realize that I’m emotionally connected to what I’ve put down on paper. That means it’s okay to let my feelings be hurt if she thinks my words aren’t as good as they could be. So if I need time to mourn, then I’m going to take that time to be upset. I may even let rum come by and help me feel better. Rum may or may not be joined by his buddy brownies or chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.
I’m also going to communicate. If she’s ripped something to shreds and I don’t understand why, I need to ask her. “What didn’t you like about that section?” is a crucial question to ask of someone who is critiquing your work.
I need to find something good. Usually, my BFF does that. Even in our conversation last night, after she’d done a quick initial read, she told me something she enjoyed. That lets me know she doesn’t think I wrote total shit, even when she then said it was too long. It’s not, technically, but if she feels it’s too long, that means the story is dragging, and I need to fix that.
For many people, their best friend isn’t the best person to critique their writing. Usually, your best friend doesn’t want to hurt your feelings and critiquing should be a thorough look at your work, which can sometimes be a harsh process. But it’s important that you find a great person to critique your whatever it is you’re working on, because it will make you a better writer. And that, my friends, is what this entire journey is about.